Beyond its stated mission of bringing together college football’s two best teams to play for an undisputed national championship, the BCS also gave some of college football’s best players an elevated platform to add to their legends. The format’s 16-year run featured blowouts and nail-biting finishes in almost equal measure, but every champion had some singular performance that helped make the difference.
Not every subject within this list played for the eventual champion, but all of them made a game-changing impact. Below, we highlight the top 10 title game performances of the BCS era.
10. Kermit Whitfield, WR, Florida State (Jan. 6, 2014)
Whitfield caught just five passes as a true freshman in 2013, but his 100-yard kick return touchdown with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter gave the Seminoles their first lead of the final BCS title game since the opening minutes. Auburn would pull ahead on the ensuing possession, but Jameis Winston responded by leading a game-winning drive ending in a last-minute touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin. That would not have been possible without Whitfield’s dramatic boost to reclaim momentum for Florida State.
9. Alabama Defense (Jan. 9, 2012)
The Crimson Tide capped off a dominant season on defense with a 21–0 shutout of LSU, which crossed midfield on offense exactly once all night and gained just 92 total yards against a defense brimming with NFL draft picks. C.J. Mosley picked off Tigers quarterback Jordan Jefferson in the third quarter, and Dont’a Hightower put the result out of question with a late forced fumble. Even next to Alabama’s other great defenses of the past decade, this unit was special.
8. Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn (Jan. 10, 2011)
Oregon terrorized opposing defenses on the ground throughout the 2010 season, racking up 286.2 rushing yards per game to finish fourth in the nation behind two option offenses (Georgia Tech and Air Force) and Colin Kaepernick–led Nevada. But against Auburn in the national title game, the Ducks could muster only 75 yards on 32 carries in a 22–19 loss, thanks in large part to the disruptive presence of Fairley in the middle of the Tigers’ line. Fairley finished with three tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and a pressure tof QB Darron Thomas that led to a key Auburn interception in the red zone.
7. Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama (Jan. 7, 2013)
Lacy was the hammer that stunned Notre Dame’s stout defense in the opening minutes and pounded it into submission as the Crimson Tide’s 42–14 win unfolded. By the end of the first half, he had scored twice and demoralized the Fighting Irish’s most fearless tacklers, averaging a whopping 7.1 yards per touch on 20 carries and two receptions.T.J. Yeldon topped the 100-yard mark himself, but Lacy’s performance was a microcosm of the blowout.
6. Ken Dorsey and Andre Johnson, QB and WR, Miami (Jan. 3, 2002)
The 2001 Hurricanes boasted one of the greatest collections of talent in college football history, and the 2002 Rose Bowl represented the height of their power (Miami would go on to win 34 consecutive games before losing to Ohio State in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl). Dorsey turned in a career performance in a 37–14 romp of Nebraska, throwing for 362 yards and three touchdowns on an efficient 22-of-35. Johnson scored twice and tied Peerless Price’s BCS championship game record for receiving yards with 199.
5. Peerless Price, WR, Tennessee (Jan. 4, 1999)
Price earned SI cover honors after the inaugural BCS championship game, picking on Florida State’s secondary for 76- and 79-yard receptions—the second of which resulted in a touchdown—and averaged a shade under 50 (fifty!)yards per catch. Throw in another 43 punt return yards, and he was the game’s undisputed MVP.
4. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn (Jan. 6, 2014)
Florida State ultimately prevailed in the last BCS championship game, but the Seminoles had no answer for Mason, the engine of a lethal Tigers ground game. The tailback was fabulous in defeat, finishing with a whopping 195 yards on 34 carries and another 42 yards through the air. He holds the record for most carries in a BCS championship and trails only Vince Young in single-game yardage. Mason also found the end zone twice, including on a 37-yard dash that gave Auburn a late lead before FSU pulled ahead for good. Were it not for his contributions, the Tigers hardly would have been in a game that was theirs for the taking.
3. Peter Warrick, WR, Florida State (Jan. 4, 2000)
Warrick was among the most dynamic receivers of his generation, and he shined in the 2000 Sugar Bowl with 163 yards and a pair of scores on a mere six catches. He also returned a punt return 59 yards for a touchdown and brought in a two-point conversion, accounting for 20 of the Seminoles’ 46 points. Warrick earned game MVP honors as FSU celebrated its second championship.
2. Matt Leinart, QB, USC (Jan. 4, 2005)
Only one name could keep Leinart’s efforts in the most lopsided BCS title game ever out of the top spot on our list. The 2004 Heisman Trophy winner diced up Oklahoma for 332 yards and five touchdowns in the 2005 Orange Bowl. Leinart, who shared a backfield with LenDale White and Reggie Bush, got the better of 2003 Heisman winner Jason White and Adrian Peterson in a 55–19 win. The game’s outcome was never in doubt, and the clincher came early, when Leinart connected with Dwayne Jarrett on a 54-yard score.
1. Vince Young, QB, Texas (Jan. 4, 2006)
The 2006 Rose Bowl featured all three Heisman finalists, the defending national champion and what were definitively the two best teams in college football. Leinart (365 yards, one TD) and Bush (177 total yards, one TD) were outstanding for USC, but Young was a star among stars, leading Texas to a 41–38 win over the Trojans. The future No. 3 pick completed 30 of 40 passes—a BCS championship record for most attempts without an interception—for 267 yards through the air. He dusted the Trojans on the ground for 200 yards (also a record) and three touchdowns on 19 carries, including the iconic touchdown scramble that sealed the win.
With the game-winner, Young tied Warrick’s record for most points in a championship game. In what may be the greatest college football game ever played, his performance still stands as an all-timer.